In our last article we looked at self-reliance, and how we can lose sight of reality when we are under pressure and don’t believe we have the tools to continue.
In this second installment, we will look at how self-belief but also a belief in the world is important for our well-being, and even our survival. This comes in looking at the difference between wild and domesticated rats. Wild rats, those who are suspicious by nature didn’t last as long as domesticated rats in the experiments of Rat-Killer Richter. A very interesting aspect to this (if you are a bit nerdy) is that the domesticated rats were picked out of the water from time to time and left to dry off and run around. Through this they began to learn their environment would rescue them.
The results showed that while some rats, primarily the wild ones, would give up and die within 15 minutes, the domesticated rats who had been rescued would swim for 60 hours or more. They learned that there is a reason to keep going. In basic terms, they learned hope. The reality is that they had no idea their world was completely under the control of an outside source, but they believed that by keeping going they would survive, which they did, at least for a while longer.
In essence, the suspicious, distrusting rats felt that they had no reason to hope. Who cared about them? Who would rescue them? With no reason to believe in others, or the inherent good in the world, and through having their whiskers removed and having lost what they believed was their best tool for escape, they gave up.
The sad thing is that this is true for so many people. In our individualistic and isolationist culture, our corporate world of cutbacks, redundancies, companies demanding more from people, while offering lower wages and less resources, we see the same patterns in the world. The suicide rates continue to increase, and is now the number two cause of death for teens. We have to do better.
Here are today’s three takeaways:
1 – In a natural environment swimming for 60 hours would likely have seen the wild rats live, whether through being washed up somewhere, or finding something to climb on, they could have made it in the same situation in the wild. They gave up because of low self-efficacy. They would have done the same in the wild.
2 – Trust in the environment is just as important as belief in self. This is Erikson’s very first stage of development – trust versus mistrust – will the world be a place I can trust or not? Scary to think that the first few months of life can build a foundation for the rest of your life, including the ability to believe in yourself and achieve goals.
3 – There is a big difference between us and the rats. We know better. We have the resources and the ability to help each other.
The big key here is that hopelessness is a genuine killer. When people (or rats) have no hope, they give up. If you see someone drowning, it takes very little to give them a hand to help pull them up.
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